After 17 Years of Dreaming I’m Headed to CES 2017

It’s 2:30 am here in Alberta and I really should be sleeping, but it doesn’t seem like that will happen tonight. A combination of nervous excitement and a flurry of last minute things to do has me buzzing. In just two and a half hours I will be headed to meet the team and our journey to CES 2017 begins.

For those that don’t know what CES is, let me break it down for you. CES (Consumer Electronic Show) is a massive industry tradeshow where technology companies from around the world gather to show off the latest and greatest innovations in consumer electronics. With 165,000 industry attendees, over 5,000 press, and 4,500 exhibitors CES is a mammoth event that takes over Las Vegas every January.

 

 

This is not the everyday stuff that you see in stores, but what will be coming down the pipe over the next few years. CES is where the big electronics players like Samsung, Sony & Intel let their R&D teams out of the bunker and unleash their creations on the world. Hell, this year Fiat Chrysler, BMW, Ford, Toyota, Nissan, Hyundai, and newcomer Faraday – are snubbing the Detroit Autoshow and unveiling their new electric and hybrid vehicles.

 

Electric car maker Faraday will unveil the Faraday Future tonight. A much-anticipated announcement that experts say may make of break their company.

As a designer & developer, I love technology. I’m constantly fascinated by the innovation in the industry and if popular culture tells us anything, we all want to live in the future. Since 1999, I’ve sat at my desk year after year listing to the press conference while I work, reading articles on my breaks, standing in awe of what is to come. Every year I think, I would love to be there walk the show floor. To see it for with my own eyes and take it all in. This year that dream is coming true.

The amazing part is, not only will I be attending CES for the first time. This year our team will be there to showcase a handful of consumer products that I designed. Real, tangible things that others will get to say “Shut up and take my money!” about. It’s going to be a fantastic week swimming with the big fish.

I’m excited to share the good, the bad, and the downright weird that I find at CES 2017 as the week progresses.

The Legend of Tarzan: My D-BOX Motion Seat Experience

I paid $23 to see The Legend of Tarzan… for… ummm science?

I’m a huge fan of the art of storytelling and storytelling doesn’t get much better than the cinema experience.  My profession means i’m constantly connected, always within reach, and no matter the hour and compelled to respond when I see that blinking light. Movies are my escape, for a moment in time they force me to unplug and allow me to experience a story other then my own.

I love movies. Most Thursday nights you can find me at the theater taking in the next big blockbuster or discovering one of the lesser known gems. Some years ago Cineplex (them main theater chain here in Canada) premiered the D-Box motion seating in some of their larger centers. The system allows an artists to script motion that is timed to the movie allowing you to not only see, but feel the action. Our local Cineplex got D-Box motion seats a few weeks ago and I was itching to try the experience. They promise a lot, but how does it hold up?

 

 

The Legend of Tarzan

Lets take a brief detour to talk about the actual film, The Legend of Tarzan. I don’t typically review the films I watch in greater detail then a single tweet as I hate spoilers and hundreds of people pour their hearts into creating something for us to enjoy. The Legend of Tarzan has its flaws but as a whole is a wonderful movie. Taking the path less traveled, at the beginning on the film John Clayton III (Tarzan) and his beautiful wife Jane are in England. John has claimed his fathers linage as Lord Greystoke and has started to build a new life with Jane far from the jungle that raised him. Eventually John’s duty to his country as Lord Greystoke pulls him back to the world he once escaped.

 

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Jane Clayton will cut you so bad, you wish she did not cut you so bad!

The cast is fantastic and story underneath is a great foundation. Throughout the movie I found myself wishing there was a little less action and more character driven drama. Alexander Skarsgård as Tarzan and Margot Robbie as Jane are well paired and certainly create some on screen magic. With Samuel L. Jackson and Christoph Waltz supporting most of the compelling scenes are found outside the action. Some of the action scenes, particularly Tarzan’s vine work and some of the jungle scenes feel unnatural. This seems like a budgetary issues as with a little more work on the lighting and rotoscoping would have went along way. Director David Yates and Warner Brothers have created magic together in the past with him at the helm of Harry Potter movies and the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, so we know they are capable of more. If you enjoy compelling stories, its worth checking out.

 

Cineplex & D-Box Motion Seats

Did it enhance the movie experience? Yes. Did it distract from the movie experience? Yes. Was it worth the money? I’m squarely on the fence about that. The first thing you will notice about D-Box is it’s insane price. D-Box seating I’ve encountered is always located inside Cineplex’s UltraAVX theaters. If you haven’t seen a movie in UltraAVX, I highly recommend it. Upgraded projection, Dolby Atmos surround sound, reserved seating and upgraded semi reclining seats are well worth the upgraded price. Although prices vary by region the price in Red Deer, Alberta breaks down like this:

  • Standard Adult Ticket $12
  • Ultra AVX Premium $3
  • Ultra AVX 3D Premium $2
  • D-Box Premium $6

For a whopping total of $23 Freaking Dollars. That is a hefty fee, one where if you intend to bring your significant other you may want to consider a second mortgage. In fairness, you can lob $5 of that price on Tuesday nights, but that still places D-Box in an extreme luxury category for me. Is it worth the cost of two movies? Let’s break it down.

The D-Box Experience

When you walk into the theater you will defiantly notice the big red seats protruding like an island in the sea of Cineplex blue, allowing you to proudly proclaim your fanciness. D-Box seats are typically located in the primary viewing zone, where your eyes are dead center of the screen. Premiums price, premium placement. Hopping onto your D-Box seat you will notice a few more differences.

The D-Box Seats

The seat is not nearly a comfortable as the Cineplex’s other Ultra AVX seats, its quite ridged, and understandably because of the motion – doesn’t recline. On your left you will find a standard cup holder and to your right is a set of D-Box controls allowing you to set your own level of intensity. At 5′ 9″ I did notice a two things about the seat that I feel affected my viewing experience beyond the seats motion. First, the back of the seat is shorter then the other UltraAVX seats meaning I couldn’t lay my head back against the seat as I typically would when viewing.  Second, the underlying motion control system means that the seat sits slightly higher then a typical seat. Not much higher, but enough that I started to feel numbness in my lower leg because of reduced circulation.

Rows of D-BOX chairs lined up in a movie theatre. (Courtesy of D-BOX)

Rows of D-BOX chairs lined up in a movie theatre. (Courtesy of D-BOX)

The D-Box Motion

D-Box is definitely an experience. The technology works pretty well and I do feel like enhances the cinematic experience. There’s magic when the D-Box Motion Code syncs up with some of the epic flyover shots in the film. The very subtle pitch and roll make you feel like you are looking from the cameras perspective, and that’s pretty cool experience. Some very subtle tweaks to the motion could go along way to enhancing the experience. The seats seem to stop at their home and some animation style easing where it goes sightly past home and back would feel more natural. Where it lost me was the more action filled sequences.

The motion an technology itself was great but I found the motion artists stylistic choices didn’t match my expectations. For example, there is a scene where your looking down the barrel of a chain gun as it’s fired and you feel the gosling of the gun as if you were firing it yourself. When the camera cuts, so does the motion. Now your being fired at and the seat is stark and still. This choice of motion and non-motion took me out of the experience more then the motion itself. Although there were some defiant miscues in the motions timing, the overall D-Box motion experience was a positive one.

The Environmental Factors

Environmental factors are one of the primary things that can ruin a theater going experience, and I feel that there are a few worth mentioning here. I have to give it to D-Box, their chairs are relatively silent and the motion of other chairs doesn’t distract from the movie, but their insanely bright control LED’s in my peripheral vision do. It’s almost like there was someone texting beside me the whole movie. Diming the panel when its not in use would go a long way to improving the user experience.

The Cineplex theater in Red Deer was not built or designed my Cineplex. They purchased it well into is constriction and their UltraAVX screen was retrofitted years later. The AVX space is great but since it was not designed for the screen that means that viewing sweet spot I mentioned is two rows from the top, and is not the optimal place for audio. Unfortunately, there is a noticeable reduction in the sound quality where the D-Box seats are place.

I love Cineplex, but I really do have to give them a hand slap here for cleanliness. At the Red Deer theater we’re often forced to stand in a third lineup while staff clean a theater. This was one of those days, and although staff went through and grabbed the drink cups and popcorn bags… There was a stack of garbage beside my D-Box seat including poutine cups, hot dog wrappers, cardboard trays and candy wrappers. I understand some patrons lack respect, I always remove my garbage and often pick up others on the way out. I understand that you cant possibly sweep and mop between every show. That said, when you make me wait and throw out a $23 price tag, it shouldn’t feel like i’m sitting inside a garbage can.

The Verdict

Are D-Box motion seats worth the price tag? The jury is still out on that one as I feel like a single film is not enough data to truly know. I feel a movie like Fast & Furious might be better suited to the D-Box experience, so I will defiantly try it again in the future.

Have you tried D-Box yet? What did you think?

The slow implosion of the WordPress Plugin Market

It’s no secret, I’m a fan of WordPress.

You will often find me in heated discussions with other creatives about the superiority of WordPress as both a publishing and application platform. The flexibility of the WordPress plugin API has enabled developers to create some amazing things on top of the WordPress core, and the ecosystem is ever expanding. Developers have created entirely new publishing experiences such as Barley, Aesop Story Engine and Semplice. While others have constructed entirely new platforms on top of WordPress with their own plugin ecosystem like WooCommerce, Easy Digital Downloads and Ninja Forms. This is exactly why I love WordPress, but also why I fear it’s imminent implosion.

This is exactly why I love WordPress, but also why I fear it’s imminent implosion.

In recent years WordPress plugins have matured to the point where many employ generous teams of developers and customer service agents around them. Teams that offer top notch customer service and products that greatly enhance the broader appeal of WordPress as a whole. Most give back to the community, contribute to the WordPress core, and push the platform forward. There is no doubt that the WordPress market is booming, but sustaining a team of employees requires a large infusion of revenue on an ongoing basis. Some have solved this issue by adapting their licensing structure to reflect the true costs, but in doing so have created a number of other problems for developers and end users alike.


Developers deserve to be paid and often more than we offer them for their work.

Enter Subscription Based Licensing

Gone are the golden days where you could pick up a revolutionary plugin for $50-$75 with lifetime updates & support. For years we got away with paying peanuts for a plugin, deploying it on unlimited websites and never looking back. Developers deserve to be paid and often much more than we offer them for their work. Today most developers have adopted a subscription based licensing model where you are granted use on x number of sites, with updates/support provided for a limited period of time. Typically, one year.

After the licensing period has expired, you will have to purchase the plugin again to continue to receive updates/support. Most developers offer a renewal window where you can purchase your new licence for a discount, but I can say I am guilty of letting licences lapse on my personal projects. I have put a lot of thought into this model over the past two years, and although I don’t necessarily agree with their prices; I believe its the best way to ensure that plugins retain their high standards.

So if teams, support, and licensing are good… where’s the beef?

Plugin Lifecycle Management

Our Scenario

Lets say we are building a new website for a trendy new salon in town and they want to:

Enable customers to book & prepay for appointments online.

For online booking I will most likely use WooCommerce (a free eCommerce plugin with paid extensions) as they have a sweet Bookings plugin. Ouch, $249/year? I’m going to have to work that into the project budget. I already own the Stripe payment plugin so we should be good to go on appointment bookings.

Showcase their teams skills

I will most likely build a custom team profile plugin that will allow the client to construct a bio for each stylist and attach photos of their work. I will also hook into the Bookings plugin to add custom “Book Me” buttons to each stylists’ pages.

Collect customer feedback

Let’s be robust in our solution for customer feedback. I will use the Ninja Forms plugin to build a robust feedback form and use the Layout & Styles extension ($39/year) so it blends well with the site design.

We will also use WooCommerce Follow Up Emails extension ($99/year) to automatically send the customer an email 48 hours after booking, thanking them for their service and requesting their feedback.

Who is responsible for the bill?

As a one man design & development team I build between 15 and 20 handcrafted websites per year on WordPress. So as you can imagine I have built quite a plugin library, but most of them are single site licences. I could upgrade them to multiple site licenses but if a client does not pay next year I could be stuck with their portion of the bill.

Lets take a look at the costs: Dedicated WordPress Host: $36o/year + Plugin Licensing: $466/year + SSL Certificate: $249/year = $1075/year

Personally, I try not to do site maintenance fees and pass things like hosting onto the customer so I don’t have issues collecting all of the costs. In an ideal world the client would pay for everything directly, but in the case of this site what would mean at least three different accounts (hosting, WooThemes & Ninja Forms), I would need access to just to get started.

With a project like this to ensure a great client experience I would likely take on licence management myself. With the current model, I will have to charge a minimum $90/mo (more likely $110/mo with foreign conversion) base maintenance fee to the client with zero man hours in return. Always a hard sell to a small business, and since these plugins are purchased yearly it means keeping the payments in escrow until the big bill comes up.

This often makes me uneasy, and if anyone has a great method for managing bulk licencing from multiple sources… I would love to hear them.

Installation & Updating

We have purchased our required plugins and we are ready to install them. So we download the package from the developer and upload it to WordPress. Upon activation we receive a notice that we must install another plugin to manage the developers licensing and to receive plugin updates. Ok, lets install that too. (This is a good time to grab a beverage of your choice)

Now we have to go back to our purchase email or the developers custom dashboard, locate the licence keys for our plugins and individually copy and paste them into the updater plugin. Then repeat the process for our other plugin vendors. Not exactly a smooth user experience, but we got a (beverage of your choice) in the process, so its not too bad.

What if we want the plugin on our development server too?

  1. This is where things get tricky. If you purchased a licence for more than one site you can repeat the process above and your development environment will receive updates too, but it will take up one of your licences.
  2. Most expired or unlicensed plugins will still function but will not receive updates. If you can live with multiple “enter your licence key” notifications in the admin, and don’t mind logging into the vendors website to manually download & re-install the plugin every time there is an update. This may also be an option.

Licence Expiry Management

Managing licences for one site is easy, managing this for 20 sites is a cumbersome task. What site owns which plugins? Which licence keys belong to each site? When do the plugins need to be renewed?

If you’re like me you have licences from 4–5 different vendors, with multiple licenses per vendor, that all expire at different times. This means constant emails letting you know licences are expiring. You go back to the spreadsheet (hopefully you have one) to find who is due and either pay it in faith that it will be covered by the client or start hounding the client for payment.

Another difficult task.

Effect on the overall User Experience

The number one resistance I get from clients when pitching them a WordPress based site is “We had a WordPress website, and it got hacked all the time.” After some brief education on choosing a responsible host, we move to a lecture on the importance of up to date software. Eventually they understand that their two man painting business in rural Saskatchewan, is not in fact under siege and they can safely return their recently purchased GAZ Tigr.

You can’t protect yourself from vulnerability if you don’t have the latest software in front of you. This takes vigilant updating of plugins across all managed sites, which with the current ecosystem is not easy.

The truth is managing premium plugins is becoming an increasingly difficult, and as the business around WordPress evolves; the overall experience of site managers is degrading.

There has to be a better way.

Solve for X

The solution is simple in nature, yet extremely difficult to execute. WordPress needs unified premium plugin management support. Brad Touesnard was on to something back in 2011 with the creation of (the now pivoted) WP App Store. A plugin that offered a curated marketplace of themes & plugins from top developers inside the WordPress dashboard, with one click purchases and unified updates. Genius, but before its time.

WP App Store failed because I failed to get it into people’s WordPress dashboards, it didn’t really solve any painful problem, and there aren’t enough quality commercial plugins yet. — Brad Touesnard WP App Store Developer

The Moonshot

I’m not talking a full app store, as I don’t feel you can accurately depict the merit of a plugin within the WordPress dashboard. I believe we need a unified system for managing plugin payments and licensing within WordPress.

Plugins should be initially purchased from the vendors website, allowing them to truly sell their product. Developers should be free to deliver their product however they choose, as the user onboarding process is essential to overall plugin proficiency. A key factor in reducing support requests.

Through an API developers could add a “Purchase with [fancy name here]” button to their products, that would then hook into the plugin system allow you to select your intended site, and install the plugin. Similar to purchasing Android apps from the Google Play web store.

Inside the WordPress dashboard the user would see a list of premium plugins that have been purchased for their site, as well as a monthly payment total.

I feel it’s important that we give clients the ability to differentiate between the cost of software, and cost of service. Many clients feel they are being ripped off on a monthly basis as we roll the cost of software into soaring maintenance fees. Transparency is the key to trust.

The Achilles’ heel

Learning from WP App Store, the only way for this system can be truly revolutionary is for it to be included in WordPress core. Something I don’t see happening anytime soon.

We have no plans to have paid products hosted or sold on WordPress.org — Matt Mullenweg (in a Smashing Magizine interview Febuary 2014)

Plan B (The Hard Way)

There is another way, build private enterprise system and find another way to get it to the masses. As Brad Touesnard has proved with WP App Store, building a robust system for managing premium plugins is entirely possible. The question is how do you get it in front of enough eyeballs to make it worthwhile?

The best solution I can offer is to partner with dedicated WordPress hosts such as WP Engine, Flywheel, pagely, and most recently Media Temple to include the system with their WordPress installs.

Heck, in an ideal world you would also include hosting in the dashboards monthly fee. One payment to rule them all!

What do you think?

Ludacris? So crazy it just might work? Feel free to troll me on Twitter with your thoughts. — @twittem

Ticketing Is Broken

SOLD OUT shows & the new age of digital scalping

If you are a music fan, it’s likely that have been disappointed with the current state of ticketing – you’re left wondering why ticket prices are so high, why fees are unexplained, and why there never seems to be tickets available.

In Canada, it’s difficult to get tickets for a popular concert. Canada is HUGE, long distances between major cities and relatively small population create a difficult climate for touring artists. The distance means to tour Canada you need additional time & resources, so artists only visit 3 or 4 Canadian cities per tour.

This led me to investigate the ticketing industry in an effort to find the best tickets at reasonable prices. The journey was not easy, quality information is scarce and ticket vendors don’t exactly want to divulge their secrets. This is what I learned along the way.

My ticket buying process

Presale codes, if you are lucky enough to find this magical password – you have a chance to get tickets. Without one, it’s almost impossible to get a ticket at face value. (we will get into that in a second)

When I hear a band is coming to town and immediately start searching the internet for presale codes and move through a series of logical places to obtain them.

  1. Google, they are the world’s top search engine for a reason.
  2. Visit the bands website and sign up for their email newsletter, this is usually the best pace to get a presale code. You may already be too late to get one, but if you click the “Can’t see this email? Read a copy on the web.” or similar link you may be able to access their newsletter archive.
  3. Visit the sponsoring radio stations website and join their fan club, and/or sign up for their email newsletter.
  4. Visit the venue website and sign up for their newsletter.
  5. Ask friends that are likely to have access to a presale code if they would share it with you.

If at this point you still don’t have access to a presale code you will have to wait for the public sale in the hope that tickets are still available, frantically call radio stations or start saving your pennies for an aftermarket ticket deal.

Where did all the tickets go?

Records are broken everyday for concerts selling out. When it was announced that Garth Brooks would be playing the Calgary Stampede’s 100 Year celebration this year people were thrilled… then shocked when it was reported that the show’s 15,322 tickets sold out in 58 seconds.

There were rampant accusations that Ticketmaster had diverted a large block of tickets to a subsidiary site (we might as well call it what it is: digital scalping tool) TicketsNow. Seconds after the concert was sold out you could purchase tickets on TicketsNow, some with a $10,000 price tag for a ticket with a face value of $65. Ticketmaster of course denies this, and I believe them, but they didn’t take the time to explain how this could happen – because they don’t want you to know.

Where did all the tickets go? How could they possibly sell out that fast? I mean there is no way I can get through Ticketmaster checkout labyrinth and enter my credit card in 58 seconds.

The truth is they didn’t, and at the time of public sale there were very few (if any) tickets to sell.

The core issue boils down to venue and partner exclusivity contracts. If a venue uses Ticketmaster for an event there is a good chance they have signed a contract, and that contract states that all events at the venue, regardless of the type of event or the promoter must be ticketed by Ticketmaster. In return Ticketmaster offers validation equipment and certain loyalty perks to the venues patrons.

One of these perks is venues that offer season tickets to get to offer first right pre-sales to all major concert events as a perk to season ticket holders. This is a great perk for season ticket holders, and an uphill battle for music fans.

In the case of the Calgary Flames, season tickets sell out year to year. With approximately 7,000 season ticket holders, accounting for 14,000 seats. When the presale is offered season ticket holders have access to purchase 4 tickets (sometimes more depending on the event contract) per season ticket they own.

Lets do the math, if all season ticket holders purchased the maximum amount of tickets.

14,000 season tickets seats x 4 tickets per seat = 56,000 tickets

The event only had 15,322 tickets, so its pretty easy to see why high profile events sell out, but it doesn’t stop there. If tickets remain you have the Calgary Hitmen Hockey & Calgary Roughnecks Lacrosse season ticket holders, radio stations, corporate partners, partner presales (credit card companies, band fan clubs), and lastly public sale.

The new age of digital scalping

It’s hard to find real figures but from what I understand an executive level season ticket costs approx $9,000 for 45 games. That is a huge chunk of change, but if you roll the dice and resell concert tickets can also be a gateway to profit.

There are a few exceptions but for most concerts you can purchase your tickets from Ticketmaster, and without even collecting them post them on TicketExchange for whatever price you would like. They do the rest for you, broker the deal, collect payment, print and ship the tickets. They collect commision (again) and you pocket the profit. If you don’t like TicketExchange you can also post them on TicketsNow, StubHub, Ebay, or a large list of others. For popular concerts tickets 4-5 times their face value, not bad for 10 minutes work.

Yes, but Ticket scalping is illegal right?

Well no… Not really… In Canada there are no laws stopping a ticket retailer from selling bulk tickets to a secondary retailer, and with the exception of Ontario & Quebec there are no rules on ticket resale.

In Ontario offers some legislated protection, making it illegal to sell a ticket for more than the face value.

Every person who,

(a) being the holder of a ticket, sells or disposes of the ticket at a higher price than that at which it was first issued, or endeavours or offers so to do; or
purchasing as a speculation or at a higher price than advertised.

(b) purchases or attempts to purchase tickets with the intention of reselling them at a profit, or purchases or offers to purchase tickets at a higher price than that at which they are advertised or announced to be for sale by the owner or proprietor of any place mentioned in section.

In Quebec the laws have been put in place to protect the ticket retailer and not the consumer.

Quebec put into law “Bill 25″ in June 2012, making it illegal for ticket brokers to resell a ticket for more than the face value of the ticket without first obtaining permission from the ticket’s original vendor. Brokers reselling tickets are required to inform consumers the tickets are being resold, and must tell consumers the name of the ticket’s original vendor and the original face value price.

Bill 25 affords protection to the ticket retailer allowing them final say on ticket resale and a chance to collect commissions once more. The only consumer protection offered is that it must be known that the tickets is being resold at a higher price.

Retailers in the end easily circumvent that law by dealing online, as none of Canada current ticketing laws (that I can find) mention dealing online, and if the transaction happens on a server outside of the province of legislation no law has been broken.

Alberta, the wild west.

In Alberta (where I live) it is the wild west, and there are no protections offered. Where most provinces have laws against physically scalping tickets, in 2009 the Government of Alberta repealed the “Amusements Act” making is perfectly legal to stand outside the stadium and scalp tickets.

From what I see the only real avenue for prosecution of ticket scalping in Alberta is to be fined by the venue operator for trespassing (which lets face it would never happen as they profit from even butt in the stands), or through municipal bylaws for operation without a municipal business licence (although there is nothing stopping you from obtaining one)

How do we solve this?

Self Regulation — The best solution would be a honest ticketing market that puts measures in place to protect its own consumers.

The retailer could put in place policies that:

  1. Restrict ticket transfers to one or two tickets a month, eliminating bulk tickets sell offs and personal reselling for multiple events.
  2. Place restrictions on the percentage of tickets that can be reserved for venue, sponsor & season ticket holder perks.

I realize that in an currency driven endeavor this does not seem advantageous to corporations, but there is definitely room for some honesty in the industry.

Ban Ticket Transfers — We the consumer could fight to ban all ticket transfers. Yes, on some occasions we would be out a few bucks on an event we could not attend because of unforeseen circumstances… but we would all be richer in the end.

Support Honest Retailers — We as artists, promoters, venues & consumers can support the efforts of honest ticket retailers and shake up the industry. They might be giants, but we cast a mighty stone.

Are Abercrombie & Fitch wrong in being exclusionary?

Abercrombie & Fitch has the news buzzing about the off color comments by its CEO Mike Jeffries regarding their corporate exclusionary tactics. He said “He doesn’t want larger people shopping in his store, he wants thin and beautiful people. He doesn’t want his core customers to see people who aren’t as hot as them wearing his clothing,people who wear his clothing should feel like they’re one of the cool kids.’’

Is Abercrombie an elitist brand? Yes. Is Mike Jeffries a douchebag asshole? Pretty sure he is the definition. As a business are they wrong in being exclusionary? Absolutely not. If you know my stance on body image that answer may surprise you, but the simple truth is this is one of those fringe cases that walks the line.

Although I disagree with Abercrombie’s stance on what is “cool” or “beautiful” their strategy doesn’t surprise me. I have always got this impression from the Abercrombie & Hollister brands, and they don’t say they are one thing and do another. They project skinny, rich, elitist, so-cal kids; and they own the market. If you are a loyal Abercrombie customer and the self-professed leader of the “cools kids” Mike Jeffries has you rethinking where you shop, it may also be time for you to rethink your social circle.

In the pursuit of the almighty dollar, (whether you agree with them or not) there are a few valid reasons why these tactics make business sense.

Clothing is and always will be an exclusionary market.

It is one thing we all need, and there is no shortage of competition. So how does a brand create value in a saturated market? This is one of those social equations that defies conventional logic whereas in your value proposition, exclusion = inclusion & loyalty.

You can find evidence of exclusion by race, gender, body type, lifestyle, and financial means in most clothing brands; the difference is few are as vocal as Abercrombie. The most notable is FUBU a clothing brand targeted at urban African Americans, it is rumored the original acronym stood for “Four Urban Brothers United” but as the clothing brand grew it came to stand for “For Us, By Us” an exclusionary mantra that helped the brand grow exponentially. We want our style to represent us, to say something about who we are, or better who we want to be. As humans this exclusion of others leads us to feel included, like this brand was built exclusively for us, that this is where we belong.

Conversely the same tactic is used to market stores for “Plus Sized” women. Come here and shop in a comfortable environment, built exclusively for you. We seem to have no issue with plus sized stores carrying sizes limited size ranges, Victoria Secret carrying female centric products, and we can argue that these are specialty stores, but so is Abercrombie.

Limiting sizes, increases profits.

As a designer I have been involved in a lot of clothing projects for bands and small apparel companies, and I will be the first to admit I am guilty of this myself. When looking at where and how to spend your money as a clothing brand, you need to examine your demographic and make purchases that best fit your market.

When a band has a larger following of teenage girls it’s not a smart move to print XL men’s t-shirts. You create what you know will sell, and lots of it. When you have a limited budget, sometimes hard decisions need to be made and I have seen brand owners decide to print sizes they couldn’t wear themselves. There are a number of mathematical formulas used to calculate how much of each size you should order. The problem is when you’re faced with minimum quantity orders is if you don’t stick to what you can sell, you won’t have the revenue to print your next order, and you may be stuck sitting on a pile of expensive inventory.

In the case of Abercrombie who obviously has the operational revenue, it’s logical to make clothing for the demographic you spend millions of dollars marketing to.

Abercrombie’s designs don’t scale.

Abercrombie’s line consists of tightly fitted clothing and the hard truth is there is no elegant way to scale the designs. They could go through the process of designing an exclusive line for larger sizes but that would mean the brand deviating from its signature style. At that point you might as well break it off into its own brand, with its own stores, and its own marketing budget.

Businesses can’t be everything to everyone, nor should they be.

I feel Abercrombie & Fitch is way off base with where they stand, what they believe, and how they approach delicate social issues; but I will give them one thing, they are brutally honest.

“When you don’t know what you believe, everything becomes an argument. Everything is debatable. But when you stand for something, decisions are obvious.” – Jason Fried of 37Signals

From what I can gather CEO Mike Jeffries is the worst kind of person and could use a wake up call to the realities of life. Definitely not the kind of person I would have in my social circle. The wonderful thing is we get to choose. Whether you agree with what they stand for or not, they have every right to be exclusionary.

If you don’t like the club, don’t apply for membership.

Ethics & Corporate Social Responsibility Marketing

Everywhere you turn these days there’s a mega corporation trying to prove how much they care about you, your community, or your cause. They spend millions of dollars giving us warm fuzzies in the hope that we will return the favor by purchasing their product, give them a little free press, and ultimately become a loyal customer. Corporate Social Responsibility can be a power tool for creating loyalty and shifting the consumer precipitation of a corporation; but are they passionate about the cause or simply chasing the dollar it promises?

Today, I would like to take a look at one of these campaigns and perhaps in the future I will examine others.

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Dove’s Real Beauty vs The Axe Effect

Personally I love the Dove campaigns. There is no question that Dove is trying to help shape how women of all ages perceive their own beauty. In 2006 Dove Canada’s Real Beauty campaign video “Evolution” attempted to pull back the veil of print advertising and expose the process in which they altered images to create these “ideal” female forms. A moving and thought provoking video that served as the launch of their Real Beauty Workshops for girls. A great example of a corporation using its clout for social good.

The question is: What do these campaigns tell us when we see that Unilever, Doves parent company also owns Axe?

It’s interesting as marketer I love the Axe campaigns, they are fresh and humorous at times; but a parent of both a boy & a girl I have taken a deeper look at effects of advertising on target demographics.

There is no question that Dove is doing things that are right for girls and women and for me the hypocrisy doesn’t come in the form of “raunchy and sexualized stereotypes” of females, but rather the contrasting effects on its male target demographic.

Where one hand promotes self-esteem and healthy body image for females, the other hand they perpetuate the exact opposite for the male demographic. Picture perfect males, with gorgeous females hanging off them 24/7 is not a good image for either sex. As an average sized male (right around 200Lbs) that has struggled with body images issues for years, I would be quite curious to hear what Doves “highly credible third-party experts” have to say about the Axe effect’s impact on young male self-esteem, body image, and perception of sexualized situations.

In the end business is business and Marketing is just that, marketing. Although when corporations tout their corporate responsibility efforts in advertising campaigns and “Self-Esteem Funds” I don’t feel its out of line to expect a higher level of accountability.

Unilevers take on the Dove Axe realationship: http://bit.ly/14I72hy

Doves Evolution Video: http://bit.ly/ZXEglJ